ARISTOTLE'S ERROR: Blind to a blindingly obvious point!


The rational critter in action:
By standard reckoning, Aristotle was the western world's greatest logician until Godel came along.

It's Aristotle who is said to have said that "man [sic] is the rational animal." We proceed to a street-fighting question:

To what extent was his successor, Godel, wed to "rational" conduct?

Godel was so defiantly rational that he believed that "numbers and circles had a perfect, timeless existence independent of the human mind," whatever that could possibly mean. We're quoting a New Yorker essay by Jim Holt, a high-ranking science writer whose work is routinely said to be wondrously rational, clear.

According to Holt, Godel also struggled with the question of how we could possibly know that 2 plus 2 equals 4. He then proceeded, later in life, to starve himself to death. So the rational conduct tends to go at the top of our species' order.

Concerning Aristotle himself, the leading authority on his thinking is currently telling us this:
Aristotle (384–322 BC) was an ancient Greek philosopher and scientist born in the city of Stagira, Chalkidiki, Greece. Along with Plato, he is considered the "Father of Western Philosophy." Aristotle provided a complex and harmonious synthesis of the various existing philosophies prior to him, including those of Socrates and Plato, and it was above all from his teachings that the West inherited its fundamental intellectual lexicon, as well as problems and methods of inquiry. As a result, his philosophy has exerted a unique influence on almost every form of knowledge in the West and it continues to be central to the contemporary philosophical discussion.

Little is known about his life...
Little is known about his life? We'll suggest that even less is known about our world when we act as if there's such a critter as a "contemporary philosophical discussion." Unless, of course, we refer to such musings as these:
HART (2010): Perhaps more generally a quantifier is a second-level function whose value at an (n + 1)-ary first-level concept is an n-ary concept, unless n is zero, in which case its value is a truth value, an object. In that case, quantifiers would be second-level functions sometimes having first-level concepts as values and sometimes objects as values. When the value of a first-level concept at an object is truth, Frege says the object falls under the concept. Perhaps the concept:falls-under is a binary second-level concept whose first argument is an object and whose second is a first-level concept. In that case, second-level concepts could also have arguments of different levels.
That was Professor Hart in his well-received and presumably competent 2010 book, The Evolution of Logic. Absent Aristotle's efforts, would we ever have gotten that far?

For what it's worth, our elite logicians never appear to help our journalists straighten out their failing everyday logic. Dearest darlings, use your heads! It simply isn't done!

That means we're left to the pitiful work of our upper-end professional journalists, who are mainly focused on compelling matters of wardrobe, body language, sexual congress and hair.

How rational are these rational animals, the ones found in our press corps? This morning, the New York Times leads its "National" section with this pointless, vapid account of Nancy Pelosi's recent body language.

Swollen by a large photograph and by a ton of pointless filler, the nonsense eats something like two-thirds of that page. Anyone who thinks the Times is anything but vapid propaganda need only read this pointless twaddle—this morning's most prominent report in the "National" section.

What happens when this newspaper does attempt to discuss a substantive policy matter? Consider this morning's news report about admission procedures at New York City's most selective public high schools.

The topic has become a favorite hobby-horse at the Times. This morning's report, by Eliza Shapiro, consumes the entire first page of the paper's "New York" section.

Al always, we get a lot more heat than light. As she starts, Shapiro defines the problem, which without question is real:
SHAPIRO (2/7/19): Mayor Bill de Blasio’s proposal to overhaul admissions for New York City’s elite high schools has proved highly divisive, leaving some Asian-American students feeling that they are being pitted against their black and Hispanic neighbors.

His idea has also made the city a national focal point in the debate over race, class and fairness in education.

If his plan—which would scrap the admissions exam and instead reserve seats at the eight specialized high schools for the top students at every city middle school—is approved by the Legislature, the selective schools’ racial makeup would change practically overnight.

Offers to Asian-American students would fall by about half, according to a recent report, but would increase fivefold for black students.
As Shapiro notes, de Blasio's proposal would change the "racial" makeup of the student bodies at these eight "specialized" high schools. Indeed, the proposal would change those demographics a great deal.

As she continued, Shapiro described the problem de Blasio's proposal intends to address. Whatever the cause of these numbers may be, the numbers here are startling:
SHAPIRO (continuing directly): Last year, only 10 percent of the students in the city’s specialized high schools were black and Hispanic, though nearly 70 percent of the school system as a whole is black and Hispanic.

And of 900 incoming freshman admitted to Stuyvesant—the most competitive of the schools—in 2018, only 10 were black. “There is not a single Asian-American I have spoken with who doesn’t think it’s a problem,” said John Liu, a Bronx High School of Science graduate and New York state senator.

Though Mr. de Blasio’s proposal has sparked intense opposition from some Asian-American groups, interviews with eight alumni from four of the schools show that Asian-Americans are torn about the plan, and are grappling with the big questions it raises about how elite schools should select students in New York City and the rest of the country.
It's startling to see how few black and Hispanic kids are currently attending these high-powered schools. De Blasio's plan would instantly change that.

"Offers to Asian-American students would fall by about half," Shapiro suggests. A whole lot of Asian kids would be turned away in the future, replaced by their black and Hispanic peers.

Shapiro goes on to report the views of eight Asian-American graduates of these high-powered schools. Four of them favor de Blasio's plan. The other four seem to have mixed views.

This is a very important policy matter involving a very important part of American life. Might we go ahead and identify the dog which failed to bark today? The dog which never barks?

De Blasio's plan is based on a basic premise. He says a lot more black and Hispanic kids could benefit from attending these high-powered schools.

He says they'd be able to do the work. He says they deserve the chance.

Without any question, one part of that assessment is right. If kids are able to do challenging work, that's the kind of work they should encounter at school. If capable kids are being denied the chance to attend such challenging high schools, that represents a failure on the part of the New York City Public Schools.

That said, here comes the dog that didn't bark at any point in this morning's report. At no point in this full-page report does anyone ask the obvious question:

If there are lots of kids in New York City who can do such challenging work, why doesn't the city open additional high-powered high schools? Beyond that, why doesn't the city add classrooms and seats to the eight "specialized schools" it already has?

These are the world's most obvious questions, but Timesfolk like Shapiro blow past them every time. In this morning's report, Shapiro doesn't raised this obvious question herself. Neither do any of the eight people whose interviews she reports.

This basic, blindingly obvious question has been raised by Gotham education-watchers, but the New York Times would jump off a bridge before it raised this point. Instead, the Times pleasures us "liberals" with heated discussions in which different "racial" groups are pitted against one another. Along the way, we liberals line up to start taking names as we announce Where The Racists Are.

Why doesn't the mayor create a whole range of additional high-powered seats, perhaps at additional high-powered high schools? Why does he pretend that Moses descended from the mountain with a tablet telling us how many such seats are allowed?

These are the world''s most obvious questions, but you'll never see such questions raised in the New York Times. The rational animals at that paper seem to live by script alone—by scripts which track tribal preference. At present, our tribe loves demographic fights. We pursue them to the ends of the earth. They let us pretend that we're moral.

For the record, it isn't just the New York Times which stumbles ahead in this manner. Back in December, New York magazine's Zak Cheney-Rice wrote a long essay on this same topic.

Go ahead—examine his work! See if you can find any place where the obvious question was allowed to intrude on the pleasure of shouting and yelling about the evils of "segregation," a pleasing term which makes our tribe feel like we fight the good fights.

Why doesn't the city create additional seats at additional high-powered high schools? It's the world's most obvious question, but despite our species' alleged rational nature, the question goes unasked The question lies in a pit somewhere, buried next to the basic health care data you'll never see in the Times. (For background, see yesterday's report.)

That said, rational animals at the Times were eager to report today on Pelosi's thrilling body language. And as serious questions go unasked, our elite logicians will slumber and snore, raising another obvious question:

Man [sic] is the rational animal? Is it possible that Aristotle may perhaps have committed an error, at least in the way his famous words are commonly understood?

Tomorrow: In search of a new paradigm


  1. "Anyone who thinks the Times is anything but vapid propaganda need only read this pointless twaddle—this morning's most prominent report in the "National" section. "

    But no one could possibly think that, so no harm is done, Bob. Yawn.

  2. So Somerby can see the obvious fact that NYC needs more, better, demanding, academic high schools at all levels. but he has invented a "worlds leading expert" on aristotle who seems to think that one being can have *two* "fathers." He seems not to have ever heard that "all Western philosophy is a series of footnotes to Plato" (A.N. Whitehead) Of course "Process and Reality" is far beyond his intellectual horizon, but "Adventures of Ideas" is surely not betond the reach of someone able to grasp the obvious fact that NYC needs *much* better schools at all levels.

  3. “This is a very important policy matter involving a very important part of American life. “

    And yet, Somerby complains:

    “The topic has become a favorite hobby-horse at the Times. This morning's report, by Eliza Shapiro, consumes the entire first page of the paper's "New York" section. “

    Seems appropriate for a “very important policy matter involving a very important part of American life. “

  4. “If there are lots of kids in New York City who can do such challenging work, why doesn't the city open additional high-powered high schools? Beyond that, why doesn't the city add classrooms and seats to the eight "specialized schools" it already has?”

    Perhaps Somerby should take the train from Baltimore up to NYC and stand alongside the actual parents of NYC schoolchildren to demand answers to these questions, which have likely been asked in public meetings of the school board and elsewhere. It is unknown whether Somerby has given a complete account of this debate, either in the Times or elsewhere, since he is so quick to characterize his cherry picked articles as the full and complete coverage devoted to this issue by the Times.

    How applicable is this specific fight anyway, over “specialized (public) high schools” with special entrance exams in NYC to the school situation outside of NYC? Are there many cities with such high schools?

  5. Why don’t they open more specialized high schools? The existing ones have a reputation built up, in some cases over decades. You can’t duplicate that simply by opening another school. It’s like saying, “well, you can’t go to Harvard or Yale, so let’s create another Harvard or Yale.”

    Why not let more students in? Perhaps it’s an issue of space, or staffing.

    These are possible answers, but I don’t think Somerby is really open to them.

    1. There's another fairly obvious problem. If they did create more seats, and they continued to (logically) fill them based on test scores and grades, they would probably find that 70% of the new seats were also being filled by Asians and whites.

      Other than reputation it is fairly basic to create an elite school 1) you offer high level classes, 2) you hire high level staff, 3) you use more challenging textbooks 4) you keep out the kids who would disrupt class and/or threaten their fellow students, and 5) you have smaller class sizes.

      Some of that would require more funding.

  6. Shapiro’s opening paragraph says:

    “Mayor Bill de Blasio’s proposal to overhaul admissions for New York City’s elite high schools has proved highly divisive, leaving some Asian-American students feeling that they are being pitted against their black and Hispanic neighbors.”

    Somerby says:
    “the Times pleasures us "liberals" with heated discussions in which different "racial" groups are pitted against one another.”

    It was indeed pleasurable to read about a supposed race war, pitting different racial groups against one another.

    Only, that pleasurable story was in a different publication:

    “In the world of the mayor's race war, we vow to freeze the number of seats, and we kick the Asian kids out.”

    GAPS AND PLANS: How many kids would benefit?

    FRIDAY, JUNE 29, 2018

  7. Dr. Thomas Sowell researched racial and ethnic preferences in a number of countries. He discovered that once in place, these preferences tend to last forever. De Blasio's racist plan illustrates why. The plan is designed to give blacks an advantage over Asians and whites. Naturally, blacks will never want to give up this advantage, and politicians will accommodate them.

    Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream was that everyone would be equal, and no one would be thought of as different. People would be judged by the content of their character, not by the color of their skin. Programs like De Blasio's will prevent this dream from every coming true. 😞

    1. Indeed, De Blasio's plan is blatantly racist, but what I find curious is that De Blasio himself most likely won't give a fuck about his constituency skin tones.

      It's not De Blasio, it's just the standard liberal electoral strategy.

      Deliberately stoking racial tensions and inflaming racial hatred. If necessary, instigating a race war. Divide and rule.

      Anything to avoid addressing the real concerns: the industrial collapse and imperial wars.

      Oh, well.

    2. Yes, forget about education. Focus on the industrial collapse and imperial wars of the Trump administration. Never take your eyes off the massive corruption. Good idea.

  8. When it comes to the specialized high schools, you are talking about gifted children. There is a long history of neglect of gifted kids because of the attitude that those who are struggling at school should have their needs met first. Because of chronic underfunding, resources tend to be cut first and allocated last toward gifted programs. We like to have kids who win awards and do well on the National Merit exam, but it is assumed that smart kids will do well no matter what their circumstances, so why do anything special for them. That is part of the reason that there are not enough specialized high schools for the kids who might benefit from them. The reason disadvantaged minority kids are not included is that it is difficult to identify what a gifted disadvantaged child is like -- they may be underachievers, so test scores don't find them. They may have disabilities or obstacles to doing well. Their parents don't know how to advocate effectively on their behalf, and they themselves may not have goals that fit what they are capable of doing in a supportive environment. So they get overlooked. Some get referred for discipline or special ed and are identified there. Many just float through school without anyone knowing what they might have done with higher expectations and more opportunities (and a little encouragement).

    I find it odd that Somerby asks this question. He should know very well what the answer is. He supposedly worked in education.

    1. He knows only how to criticize others, arising from his hatred of journalists and the media. He has no answers. None. Nada. Zero. Zilch.

      And his brush with education ended over 40 years ago when he tried not to let the school door hit him as he exited that forlorn profession for the infinitely more glamorous (and lucrative! well, not for him) world of standup comedy. He couldn’t stand being a teacher. And now look where he is.

  9. IMHO this new policy will create big problems. The average Asian student is probably 5 or 6 years ahead of the average black student. Chances are the difference between top Asian and top black students is also quite wide. What will happen when Bronx High School of Science tries to deal with this disparity? Will they reduce the level for everyone? Will they put the slower students into segregated classes?

    1. You are confusing aptitude and achievement -- they are not the same.

      Einstein reportedly did poorly in some classes but obviously had considerable ability when motivated. Minority kids can be the same -- capable of learning even if they haven't previously, for various reasons.

    2. This is not a reason to give preferences to black kids. Kids of any race might be capable of learning, even if they haven't previously. Is there evidence that black kids with less than outstanding records are more apt to benefit in a special high school than white or Asian kids with less than outstanding records?

    3. The proposed plan doesn’t give preference to black students. It would guarantee a place in the specialized high schools to the top x% of students from every middle school in NYC.

      By the way, Hispanic students far outnumber blacks in NYC.

    4. @1:01 - sure, formally it doesn't give preference to black students. But, in reality, it allows some black students with worse records and test scores to replace some Asian and white students at these selective schools. And, that's the exact purpose. It's no secret that the goal is to have more black children in these schools. BTW the state of Texas did the same thing for admission to the University of Texas and for the same reason.

    5. No, the purpose is not to “replace” students. It is to open up opportunities to all students, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Eskimo, whoever, not just black as you seem to keep going back to.

    6. The real mistake and offense here is redlining and other similar segregating scams. Learn more about the black experience in America:

      Racism and the Ignoring of Black Pain

      Medical Apartheid

  10. Why is Somerby so obsessed with this story about specialized high schools in New York?

    Talk about hobbyhorses.

    As noted by anon 2:50, Somerby, who constantly complains about “R bombs”, is perfectly comfortable throwing his own.

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